RAF Cosford has, for the second year in a row, gained the distinction of becoming the Royal Air Force’s premier event and having been a fixture on the UK airshow calendar for many years now, it has become a ‘must’ for aviation enthusiasts up and down the country – and rightly so! After an award winning show last year, AeroResource’s Jamie Ewan joined a crowd of almost 60,000 descending on the Shropshire base to see if the feat could be repeated again for the RAF Cosford Air Show 2016.
Mention the word Cosford and many will think of the world-class museum and the plethora of types that once graced the skies and are now held within it. Some will think of the mighty SEPECAT Jaguars that live on at the base paving the way for those learning their trade under the Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering (DSAE). However, for the majority, the one thing that will spring to mind is the RAF station’s annual airshow.
Like most years, the organisers of the show had set it around a number of themes – 2016’s being 75 years of the Air Training Corps, Speed: the evolution of the Jet Engine and Training – which were represented in both the flying and static displays spread across the show ground. Both the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and the 25th Anniversary of Operation Granby were also represented – the prior in the flying display and the latter in the static.
Having been in existence for almost 80 years, the airfield at Cosford when compared to the likes of other RAF stations is somewhat smaller. The hand-off of being a smaller airfield means that there is a far more intimate feeling both on the ground, but more importantly in the air. This certainly allows a far better appreciation for the smaller types when displayed. Aircraft such as warbirds and aerobatic types displaying at Cosford have always been found to take in the entire display line – a huge plus for those at either end, walking around the showground or for the photographers looking for a different view. The drawback is that the base has one of the shortest runways available in the RAF’s inventory, meaning that types capable of arriving for static display are limited to smaller fixed wing and rotary machines. That said, with the numerous airframes making up the hugely impressive collection at the RAF Museum and those used by the DSAE and found on the airfield’s footprint, a rather unique static display is practically in place already albeit in the form of a museum.
One of Cosford’s huge pulling powers it has to be said is the chance for some nostalgia. In addition, the chance to get up close and personal to a type that although ground-bound (for the UK fleet at least) for the rest of its days is just as popular as it was on the day it left the skies – a far cry from most types often forgotten once retired – The SEPECAT Jaguar.
DSAE contributed no less than 30 Jaguars, which have called Cosford home since the first example arrived in 1986, wearing various schemes and unit markings for the static display – nostalgia at its finest! Included in amongst the many airframes was the one and only ‘Spotty Jag’ wearing its stunning retirement scheme – which is unbelievably nearly ten years old now. As you can imagine with the majority of the RAF’s Jaguar fleet housed at Cosford you would expect to find an Operation Granby verteran or two amongst them – after all it was the Jag’s finest hour. Incredibly seven of the ‘tamed’ cats are indeed veterans of which four of them, XX748, XZ367, XZ115 and XX725, were on view for the public to see – the latter wearing the traditional ‘desert pink’ scheme.
However, unlike previous years when a couple of the resident Jaguars were given the chance to prowl up and down the runway, 2016 was sadly without the glorious roar of Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adours. One hopes that we see them return next year ‘stalking’ the runway.
Getting in on the act after the hugely successful appearance of their BAC TSR2 in the open last year, the RAF Museum once again allowed a number of their stunning airframes a rare chance to leave the confines of the hangars the public a chance to see them in the light of day. From the Flight Test hangar came three aircraft of which two were the very fastest to come from the British aviation boffins of yesteryear – the somewhat sharp looking Fairey Delta II (WG777) and the still futuristic looking Bristol 188. The latter’s positioning was well thought out with it being placed where the TSR2 was placed last year again allowing a relatively obstruction free background for photographers.
Those arriving at the gates for opening were lucky enough to see the 188, nicknamed the ‘Flaming Pencil’ due to its sleek look, length and low to the ground stance, bathed in the only sun of the day with many gathering around the 1960’s experimental jet in awe showing its inclusion was a welcome one. Joining these two ‘speed demons’ was the world’s sole Avro 707C (WZ744) from the confines of the same hangar.
For those with a love of the Harrier, three of the type in various guises were dotted around the showground. Leading the way was the VAAC (Vectored-thrust Aircraft Advanced Control) T4 – XW175 – in its striking red, white and blue scheme. Fitted with a pair of dummy AIM-9 Sidewinders and currently on loan from RNAS Yeovilton, Sea Harrier FA2 ZH796 was a very welcome sight. The ‘star’ of this vertical trio was Cosford Airshow’s very own GR3, XZ991, this year wearing a smart Artic wrap around scheme that had been applied especially for the show.
Also joining the static were a number of visitors from both civilian and military operators in their various training guises. Forming a well thought of tribute to that theme was a group of some 16 aeroplanes sat together ranging from the mighty Vigilant through to the even mightier Jaguar. What made this grouping even better was the simple fact that most of the machines were by, or close to, either its successor and/or predecessor. For example the de Havilland Chipmunk, Scottish Aviation Bulldog and Grob G115E Tutor – all of which have been used by the Royal Air Force in the training role and show the path of progress taken by the Air Training Corps with all three being used by their Air Experience Flights (in that order). Likewise with the Slingsby Venture T1 and Grob G109B Vigilant T1.
Representing modern day trainers from the Irish Air Corps, Royal Air Force and French Air Force were the Pilatus PC-9M, Shorts Tucano T1 and Socata TB 30 Epsilon respectively – the latter attending as a pair and making a rare appearance from their base at BA709 Cognac. Complementing the entire group was an immaculate example of the Tucano’s predecessor – Jeff Bell’s stunning Midlands based BAC Jet Provost T5A XW324 (G-BWSG) wearing its pristine 6 Flying Training School colours, a genuinely fantastic looking machine.
Rotary training types were also represented with Eurocopter Squirrel HT2 ZJ260/60 of the Defence Helicopter Flying School and Bell Griffin HT1 -ZJ234/S of 60 Squadron making the short hop over from RAF Shawbury – ZJ234 wearing special marks on the nose to celebrate the unit’s centenary.
Making a very welcome appearance, and in fact an incredibly rare appearance in the UK, was a Sud Aviation SA.316B Alouette III of the Belgian Navy. One of just three operated by the service, the aircraft – M-2 (OT-ZPB) – is currently in use with the Heli Flight of 1 Wing at Koksijde Air Base. Slated for replacement by the newly introduced NHIndustries NH90 NFH, issues with the types integration into service could see the Alouette soldiering on until 2020. Here is hoping the venerable utility helicopter makes a return to the UK before it’s withdrawn from use.
It can easily be said that with the static display being so varied a review on it alone would be worthy given the seemingly unending drawing power it had – for which the show organisers should be applauded but for many it was the flying display that they had come to see, after all Cosford is an airshow!
In the weeks leading up to the show, a distinct flavour could be seen from the announcements made – classic jets. On the day of the show, four of the finest jets gracing the UK display circuit filled slots in the planned line-up – the hugely powerful Sea Vixen, the delightful Gnat, the miniscule MiG-15 and the robust Jet Provost. On the day, the weather forced two of those displays to cancel including the expected star of the day – Sea Vixen FAW2 XP294 (G-CVIX) was stuck on the ground at RNAS Yeovilton whilst the Gnat Display Team with their two Folland trainers were also stuck on the ground but at Bristol International Airport. Other cancellations also came in the form of Hangar 11’s newly repainted North American P-51D Mustang ‘Tall in the Saddle’ and the RAF Falcons – the latter circling for as long as feasible whilst looking for a gap in the grey blanket of clouds.
That said, with Cosford being the RAF’s sole one, it is with no surprise that they were out in force with all five of this year’s display ‘teams’ being fielded at the show – the Chinook, Eurofighter Typhoon, Falcons, the Battle of Britain Memorial Fight and the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.
The honour of opening the day’s show fell to a type making its first flying appearance as a RAF asset since entering service in late 2015, the Airbus A400M ATLAS C1. Flown by a crew from 70 Squadron out of RAF Brize Norton, the machine (ZM405) flew a single gear-down pass from the the south-west before continuing on its way. One wonders when (and of course if!) we may see the ATLAS taking part in a show with a role demo or full display of its own. Also based at Brize Norton, 47 Squadron provided a flypast with their current mount and a type synonymous with the airlift role – the Lockheed C130J Hercules. Like the ATLAS, the Hercules flew a single flypast but nevertheless it was a rare chance to see the stalwart of the UK’s transport capability both at home and overseas.
Up until about a month ago, the RAF had hoped to reintroduce the King Air to the display circuit but sadly, while working up the routine, the team from 45(R) Squadron at RAF Cranwell identified a potential safety issue causing the withdrawal of the display for the year. Despite this, the squadron were on hand to add another type to the long and distinguished list of aircraft that have flown in formation with the nine red Hawks of the Red Arrows. Flying in their traditional ‘Big Battle’ formation with the King Air trailing behind, the flypast not only marked the training theme but also the centenary of 45(R) Squadron – the unit having also sent another King Air for static display wearing recently applied centenary markings.
Flown by Flight Lieutenant Mark Long of 29(R) Squadron, this year’s Typhoon display has seen the return of a standard grey jet however without the usual hint of squadron markings – ZK354 being used. Despite the plain looking jet, the display is anything but! Flying a flat display, the jet was shadowed by plenty of burner, ample amounts of noise and copious amounts of vapour spewing off its wings as it was flung around the sky with gusto – a superb show of power.
Displaying over home soil for the first time this year having attained their Public Display Authority (PDA) at the end of last month, the Chinook Display Team beat the damp, grey air into submission with huge amounts of ‘bladeslap’ as the crew put their machine through its paces – Chinook HC4 ZH893 being chosen as the day’s ‘cab’. The sheer power and the agility of the twin rotor machine being shown with the likes of the 540-degree gorni corkscrew climb, 180-degree nose down ‘quickstop’, the bow and ‘over the shoulder’ departure and the near 360-degree spiral descent.
With Supermarine Spitfire LF XVIE in the hands of the BBMF’s Officer Commanding Andy ‘Milli’ Millikin alongside Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece in the cockpit of Hawker Hurricane IIc PZ865, the pair flew a ballet of close formation passes, before splitting up and filling the sky with the sweet sound of the Rolls-Royce Merlin during solo efforts from each. No words can really describe the sight of a Spitfire and the Hurricane powering through the skies as a pair, well enough to do it the justice it deserves!
As has come to be expected from what many call the best aerobatic team in the world, the Red Arrows flew an extremely polished display – in fact where the author was stood many were heard to say that it was the best display they have seen from the team in sometime (and he agrees!). With the cloud base dropping, Red One, Squadron Leader David Montenegro, opted to fly the team’s flat show which despite the lack of room for repositioning manoeuvres using the vertical plain still kept something happening in front of the crowd at all times – even Cosford’s short display line.
Although the Grob Tutor is not being displayed this year, three from Cosford’s resident 8 Air Experience Flight and Birmingham University Air Squadron took to the air in salute to the Air Cadets in this, their 75th year for a single flypast. Not to be outdone, John Higgins was on hand to show off the type that started the ATC’s Air Experience flights way back in 1958, the de Havilland Chipmunk, with a delightful display in the art of both height and energy management. With the gentle putter of the Gypsy Major engine filling the air as it pulled the 1951-built machine through the skies, Chris Hayball gave a fine commentary about all things flying in the ATC – a very well thought out display by the team behind it.
Adding another fine display in height and energy management was Nanchang CJ-6A Chuji Jiaolianji G-BVVG and its delightful sounding 285hp Zhuzhou Huosai HS-6A radial piston engine. With the literal translation of Chuji Jiaolianji being Primary Trainer, the CJ-6A on show is in fact an airframe that once belonged to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Likewise could be said for the wonderfully Desert Air Force marked Harvard ‘Wacky Wabbit’ (G-BJST) which flew a slower paced display accompanied by the types well known snarl. At full power the tips of the propeller travel at supersonic speeds as they bite into the air, creating one of those ‘noises’ in aviation on par with the the Hunter’s ‘blue note’ or ‘that’ Avro howl.
The shows second combination of types forming up for a flypast came from ‘Wacky Wabbit’ and the Old Waden based Avro Anson C19 (G-AHKX) in its striking light blue scheme. Flying just a single flypast the two broke to allow the latter to display in a spirited fashion – not bad for a machine pushing 70 years old – especially when top siding down the display line!
Compared to the almost ballet like aerobatics of the Chipmunk and Harvard, Lauren Richardson flew a stomach churning display of unlimited aerobatics in her diminutive red and white Pitts S1S Special – the display having the the crowd gasping and clapping in delight from start to finish.
In comparison to all of the other displays, Rans S-6 Coyote II G-GWFT in the hands of Graham Wiley was the most sedate of all but the aircraft itself was one of the highlights in terms of what it represented. Many would probably think that the inclusion of what is a microlight in the flying display was either a joke or waste of time but when you find out that it was built as part of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Schools Build-a-Plane (SBAP) Challenge it holds a different king of respect. Yep that is right; students build that very machine – Ercall Wood Technology College in Telford in G-GWFT’s case. The SBAP programme has provided secondary school pupils the opportunity to build a real light aircraft from kit form. The project has not only given them hands-on experience with the build process but also a understanding of the scientific and engineering principles behind flight along the way.
With the loss of the Sea Vixen and Gnats, the classic jet portion of the day fell to two displays – the Norweigian Air Force Historical Squadron’s iconic MiG-15UTI (which is actually a 1952 Polish licence built SB Lim-2) and The Jet Provost Display Team.
Wearing an all-over silver scheme, accentuated by a deep red nose trim and a simple ‘Red 18’ the MiG represents a Fagot (the NATO code name for the aircraft) flown by famed Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before he became a household name in 1961. Kenneth Aarkvisla hurled the jet through the dark brooding skies with numerous fast passes and a very welcome number of topsides thrown in for good measure – the red markings really standing out.
Like the Jaguar, the Jet Provost holds a special place at Cosford with most variants of the jet having been used by the DSAE. That said Ollie Suckling of the Jet Provost Display team was on hand to show off the type with a somewhat energetic and flowing display with numerous sweeping wingovers and plenty of noise thrown in. Using BAC Jet Provost T.5A XW289 (G-JPVA) in place of the team’s sole airwrothy T.3 which was unavailable for the show, kudos must go to Ollie and Flying Display Director Mike Stanway – Ollie for managing to display in some horrid conditions and Mike Stanway for rejigging the line up to get him up just in time before the weather turned for the worse.
Another team managing to get up with a rejigged slot were the wonderful machines of the evocative Great War Display Team. Marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – one of the bloodiest battles not only during The Great War but in history – the display saw eight of the teams aircraft whirling around the sky with added pyrotechnics. As the team took to the skies, the show commentator announced that the number of people of the airfield equated to the British losses on the very first day of the battle – incredibly hard hitting as you looked around.
Also helping mark this theme was the 45(R) Sqn King Air in the static display wearing centenary marks that feature the silhouettes of both a British Tommy and a Sopwith Camel – the unit having been formed in March 1916 and seen flying in support of the battle.
Joining the days action in the air was another rotary type from Belguim in the form of an Agusta A109BA from the countries air force. Sadly, the multirole utility helicopter turned out to be the only foreign participant to be seen in the air. Flown by Captain Kevin Beckers and his Copilot Captain Stijn Soenens, the aircraft was flung around the sky by the crew from Beauvechain Air Base – including their trademark tiger 360 turn. Pulled into a vertical climb, the helicopter comes to a complete stop as the crew kick in a 180-degree turn to point the nose straight down finishing with a around the longitudinal axis while plummeting towards the ground – hugely impressive!
Forming in 2013, the Gazelle Squadron has quickly grown to become a firm favorite throughout the UK’s airshow scene and proven to be well liked by all – despite only attending shows on static display. Until now that is as Cosford was in fact the team’s first public display since gaining their PDA in May. Andy Moorhouse and Russ DeLieu flew a punchy and polished routine in a pair of the squadron’s Gazelle HT.3s – ZB627 (G-CBSK) nicknamed ‘Ginger’ and XZ934 (G-CBSI). With a mixture of both formation and opposition work, the shows off the Gazelle’s famous manoeuvrability and the machines differing markings. If plans come to fruition, the team’s current two-ship format could quite easily expand to no less than five aircraft – like the Gazelle teams of yesteryear! On that note of yesteryear, the team sent another example of the Westland built machine (under licence that is) wearing its original bright red and white scheme complete with the unique marking of the Sharks display team – Gazelle HT.2 XX436 (G-ZZLE) nicknamed ‘Gordon’ the airframe in question, and very smart it looks.
From the Army Air Corps came a display of the old and the new – the Westland Scout AH1 of the Historic Aircraft Flight Trust and its modern day counterpart, the potent AH-64D Apache of the Attack Helicopter Display Team (AHDT). Lifting together from their parking spot on the grass the two helicopters, which are separated by just 15 years, departed for a brief flypast and hover in front of the crowd. Sadly, the even older Agusta Bell Sioux AH1 was unable to join the formation due to a technical issue. With the Scout flying a short solo display in the hands of Major Matt Roberts, many could not have missed the menacing shape of the Apache holding out in the gloom and rain.
Returning with just a single aircraft display for 2016 the display, as has come to be expected from the AHDT, showed off the Apache off to its full deadly potential accompanied by the immense pyrotechnics provided by the team at Event Horizon. Despite a huge number of exercise commitments this year, the team have included a number of new manoeuvres that really add to the already fantastic scenario that is played out in front of the crowd. As with previous years the usual ‘wall of fire’ erupting behind the hovering helicopter was a favourite with the (by this time soaked) crowd and also ended the 2016 edition of the show with a bang.
There are not many airshows within the UK that can say they had a flypast from a Boeing B-52H Startofortress of the United Stated Air Force (USAF) to close their show. And yes, whilst Cosford can indeed make that claim, sadly the weather conspired against any chance of it being seen as throughout the afternoon the cloud base had steadily dropped below the 1,000ft minimum required allowed by the USAF for a flypast. With many straining for a glimpse of the eight-engined behemoth, it was a case of heard but not seen. A shame, but the shriek of the machine’s Pratt & Whitney TF33s brought a smile to many a face.
With the RAF Cosford Air Show 2016 now consigned to the history books, the clock has already started counting down to next years show. Despite the countdown barley making it past the first hour, many who follow the various forums and social media outlets can’t help but of seen the somewhat negative vibes being spouted regarding the show – in fact some even before the show ended. In terms of the flying display, yes there was numerous cancellations and yes they were caused by the somewhat adverse weather which not only descended upon the show, but was particularly bad in the south where a number of the items cancelling were either based or basing for their weekend schedules. And yes, those that did have to pull from the line-up were in fact some of the expected ‘stars’ but despite this the near capacity who made their way to the base were still treated to a somewhat decent airshow. In a time – the post Shoreham era – when the UK airshow scene is under constant scrutiny and changes to rules and regulations are still being felt out, a pat on the back should be given to all for involved with making Cosford happen. A classic Cosford!